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Reagan and Bush in Normandy

Bush in Normandy brought it all together. I was in France on June 6th, 1984, when Reagan paid that famous tribute to his comrades who died on those beaches, He clearly implied that he had charged the bluffs with them, We’re told that he was so carried away with the memory that he enlarged on it, talking to other statesmen there. They were amazed, because they knew Reagan had spent the war on movie sets. But it’s possible that at the moment he believed he had been there — he had, after all, seen the movie.

Reagan may have been showing early signs of what would end as fullblown Alzheimer’s–dozing off at meetings, getting names and places mixed up. I have suggested that his defenders embrace that as at least a partial alibi for his sins — but how can we forgive the politicians and pundits who have been bloviating and blubbering over him? How can they erase the memory of his lying attacks on Social Security and Medicare, on labor and welfare and the environment — forests cause air pollution, he said, and how many trees do you need to look at? He couldn’t see the difference between SS troopers and the people they killed. He got a bee in his bonnet about star wars, and we’re still paying for it. He also ran up record deficits by slashing taxes on the rich — he said that would bring in more money –while he began an arms race against no enemy at all. And he flouted Congress and soiled our national honor with Iran-contra–not to mention his staging an attack on Grenada to distract from the security blunder that left all those marines dead in Lebanon.

As I said, Bush brought it all together in Normandy. The same program, the same indifference to truth, peace and justice — except that Reagan was much better at it. He was, after all, an actor — a B actor, but an actor nonetheless, and even in his dotage he didn’t smirk when he delivered his lines. So the transition from Reagan to Bush would suggest that Americans are even more gullible today — except that a majority did not vote for Bush in 2000, and there’s a good chance that a majority will not vote for him next time. God willing and the creek don’t rise.

JOHN L. HESS is a former writer for the New York Times, a career he chronicles in his excellent new book My Times: a Memoir of Dissent. Hess is now a political commentator for WBAI.